Moral Identity Predicts Adherence to COVID-19 Mitigation Procedures Depending on Political Ideology: A Comparison Between the USA and New Zealand


Reducing the spread of infectious viruses (e.g., COVID-19) can depend on societal compliance with effective mitigations. Identifying factors that influence adherence can inform public policy. In many cases, public health messaging has become highly moralized, focusing on the need to act for the greater good. In such contexts, a person’s moral identity may influence behavior and serve to increase compliance through different mechanisms: if a person sees compliance as the right thing to do (internalization) and/or if a person perceives compliance as something others will notice as the right thing to do (symbolization). We argue that in societies that are more politically polarized, people’s political ideology may interact with their moral identity to predict compliance. We hypothesized that where polarization is high (e.g., USA), moral identity should positively predict compliance for liberals to a greater extent than for conservatives. However, this effect would not occur where polarization is low (e.g., New Zealand). Moral identity, political ideology, and support for three different COVID-19 mitigation measures were assessed in both nations (N = 1,980). Results show that while moral identity can influence compliance, the political context of the nation must also be taken into account.

Political Psychology


  • People’s moral identity is related to their attitudes toward, and adherence to, COVID-19 mitigation measures.
  • In a context where polarization is high (USA), this relationship is moderated by political ideology; the relationship between moral identity and support for COVID-19 mitigation measures is observed for liberals, but it is less strong (or even reversed) for conservatives.
  • In a context where polarization is lower (New Zealand), this relationship between moral identity and support for COVID-19 mitigation measures is not moderated by political ideology.
  • The results point to the relevance of the national sociopolitical context in shaping how public health messaging advice is received and acted upon, and a consideration of this context may be important in future messaging on societal issues.